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Friday, February 3, 2023

Xenofox - The Garden Was Empty (audio semantics, 2023)

By Martin Schray

Xenofox is still Olaf Rupp on electric guitar and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Sounds unspectacular, but it’s actually the exact opposite: we’re talking about one of the best duos that the combination of these two instruments currently has to offer if it comes to improvised music. The Garden Was Empty is their fifth album after Hundred Beginnings (Farai, 2016), Alarm (feat. Joke Lanz) (Oltramo Raw, 2018), Xenokustik (audiosemantics, 2019), and Cabbages and Kings (audiosemantics, 2022). In addition, they also released an EP, Maconda, in 2020 (also on audiosemantics). Our site has covered the work of the two in detail from the beginning and we have never made a secret of how much we appreciate their work.

Xenofox are best when they work at the interface of free improvisation, experimental music and underground art rock - in other words, as if Derek Bailey had jammed with Sunn :))). On The Garden Was Empty this can be heard best in the tracks that bookend the album,“Kette Rechts“ and the title track. Both pieces celebrate the idea of beautiful, albeit atonal, noise consisting of feedback guitar attacks, drones and metallic percussion rain. Xenofox use these characteristic elements in order to interlock monstrous tectonic sound plates to create dark fascinating sonic eruptions. The way Olaf Rupp lets it hum on these two tracks, the way his guitar throbs like a huge heart of darkness, the way he alternates these sounds with buzzing harmonics or rocking riffs, the way the music pulses and buzzes, that is of a uniqueness which is currently unparalleled in this kind of music. As a complement to this, Rudi Fischerlehner unleashes a fireworks of cymbal sounds, tonewoods, rim shots and shaken rattles on Rupp’s sombre sonority, that ricochets like a hail of bullets through the depths of a huge stalactite cave. The sound garden that Xenofox create is thus by no means empty, as the title of the album might suggest.

However, it’s not just the first and the last track on the album that are phenomenal. The three pieces at the heart of The Garden Was Empty present Xenofox as we’ve learned to love them as well. “Phantom Mirror“, for example, is less organic than the two aforementioned pieces. It unfolds an ambient-like restlessness over nearly 25 minutes with its unsettling swirls transitioning into nervous clicks before it just flows along. The music quivers and twitches and flickers all at once.

As usual, although Rupp and Fischerlehner had more time to record the music, everything is freely improvised. “During the recordings, nothing was really different than usual, if you ask me, everything just fit together very well. You could already feel it while we were playing. What was important and different is that this time we recorded two days in the studio and could completely focus on the music, without having the whole microphone and sound engineering stress. There are quite a few parts where we dealt with forms and structures differently. That has something to do with the quietness in the studio,“ Rupp says. “I try to steer the music neither by will nor by chance; that’s what interests me“, he told the German weekly DIE ZEIT in an interview in 2022. When the author asked him if it was neither controlled by will nor by chance, what is was controlled by then, Rupp answered that there was no word for it in German. However, maybe there is one: magic.

The Garden Was Empty is an early highlight of 2023.

It is available as a CD and as a download. You can oder the CD and listen to “Kette Rechts“ here: